At some point in our lives, most of us will suffer from some form of sleep disorder. This can include difficulty in getting to sleep, difficulty staying asleep long enough or waking too early. In most cases, although people focus on the problems and complain about how little sleep they are getting, they are actually getting more quality sleep than they realise. What’s more, for most of us, mild sleep deprivation is a temporary condition and will cause us no major problems, beyond feeling tired and grumpy.
Sleep deprivation problems occur when people do not get sufficient sleep to complete the natural sleep cycles – including REM or dream sleep – over a prolonged period of time. This can cause a range of mental and physical problems, and can have long term health implications.
This article on sleep deprivation is by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
Causes of sleep deprivation
The causes of sleep deprivation are many and varied:
Most people experience sleep deprivation during times of emotional stress, such as financial problems, relationship issues and other worries. Most parents also recall suffering severe lack of sleep following the birth of their baby, as their nightly feeds disrupt the natural sleep patterns.
Sleep deprivation can also be caused by physical factors, including eating too late in the evening, excessive drinking and the consumption of stimulants such as caffeine and chocolate. Lack of exercise may leave you not feeling tired, or, conversely, going to bed too soon after exercise may mean your body is too awake to sleep.
Age is also a factor. The older you get, the more likely you are to suffer problems sleeping as well as you used to. More than half of pensioners over 65 experience some form of sleeping disorder.
Women are more likely to suffer sleep deprivation than men, as hormonal changes during menstruation and menopause disrupt the normal sleep patterns.
Medication, underlying health problems, such as asthma, and mental health issues, such as post traumatic stress disorder, can all contribute to sleep problems.
If you are experiencing problems with sleep deprivation and are unsure of the cause, your GP will ask you to keep a sleep diary for a few weeks. This will enable you to identify the relationship between your lifestyle, eating and drinking, with the quality of sleep that follows.